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Category : The Business of Writing
When my new book, Grace’s Pictures, released, I knew I needed to do all I could to promote it. But at the time I faced a challenging rewrite of my next novel, a long planned for overseas trip, and my son’s wedding. The solution seemed to be finding someone to help, but I couldn’t afford to pay for an assistant.
The answer came when I realized that my writing was indeed a business and I needed to think of it that way. Corporations employ interns not only to provide young people an experience that will help them when they enter the job market, but also to get things done. I couldn’t pay someone to help me, not with money. But I did have something to offer. Since I’ve learned some things along my writing journey, I could pass some knowledge on to a student who was considering entering the publishing field.
I had no idea how to do this. I had no internship myself when I was in college. But I did not let that stop me. I decided to go out on a limb and ask questions. Since there is a private liberal college not too far away, I Googled and discovered they have a wonderful Creative Arts program. I emailed the professor in charge and to my surprise she emailed right back and said she had a student in mind who would be perfect.
Like most things that sound too good to be true, it turned out not to be that simple. I had to follow up twice to find out this student had changed her mind. The professor went back to the drawing board, but also suggested I check with a larger university. I did so, and they advertised for me, but my intern ended up coming from the smaller college. She was a freshman with little understanding of the publishing world, but she was willing
Vilfredo Pareto was a Paris-born Italian, from a prominent exiled Genoese family, famous in his own day as a social economist. He is often referred to as the first modern economics professor, and he more or less developed microeconomics as a discipline. But what he’s best known for is the principle of factor sparsity — what we usually refer to as “the 80/20 rule.” Pareto noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from about 20% of the pea pods. He determined that 80% of the wealth in Italy was held by roughly 20% of the population. And, when looking at the Italian tax structure, he noticed that 80% of the government’s income came from just 20% of the taxpayers.
Sometimes referred to as “the law of the vital few,” the Pareto Principle is found in many of the organizations you belong to. For example, 80% of the work done at your church is performed by about 20% of the members. 80% of the money raised by the non-profit you belong to is donated by 20% of the givers. And, if you work in publishing, 80% of the income your publisher makes comes from 20% of the books. (Which, if you think about it, means there is significant factor sparsity in book publishing, since 80% of the titles released this year will produce very little income for publisher and author.) Pareto noted that most every element tied to finances is ruled by a vital few (which he referred to as “the elite,” thus popularizing the term), and that it’s the success of those vital few that allows the rest of the category to persist.
Here’s why you need to understand that as an author: Your publisher is going to release a LOT of books this year. A mere 20% of them are going to generate 80% of the publisher’s income, so of course your publisher is going to
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “making a living at writing.” In addition to the advice I’ve doled out, I’ve heard from several people with wisdom to add to the discussion, and I have a few other tips to share, so I thought for the Thanksgiving weekend, we could share the best advice we all have for those looking to make a living at writing. Some of my thoughts:
—Keep your mornings protected for writing.Â Move the other work to the afternoon, but write every morning.
—Group similar activities.Â If you do all your phone calls back to back, you’ll get through them faster. Ditto emails, snail mail, project planning, looking over proposals, etc.
—Organize your day first thing every morning. If you have a plan, you’re much more apt to stay focused. Having a “to do” list helps most writers immensely.
—Take a day off one each week.Â Getting away from writing one day each week allows you to recharge your batteries and get your mind refreshed. Hey – even God rested.
—Kill the muse.Â That is, forget the concept that you have to be in a certain mood to write, or find exactly the right space to create words. Just sit and write. I’ve long appreciated Ernest Hemingway’s writing idea that you end each day in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down the next morning, you don’t have to figure where you are, or get yourself into a certain moody, or work up to it. All you have to do is to finish the incomplete sentence you’d left yourself, and you’re off and writing.
—See the value of shitty first drafts.Â Too many writers tie themselves in knots because they think they need to make their manuscript perfect. But for most novelists, what they really need is to
We’ve been talking about making a living at writing, and I’ve talked about the importance of having a place, a time, a project, a writing goal, and a calendar (among other things). Let me suggest there’s one other thing you’re going to have to learn to do if you are to take the next step in your writing career: think quarterly.
It can be daunting to think you need to earn $1000 this month. It’s much less daunting to think you need to earn $3000 in a quarter. The fact that you have the extra time allows you to shift your priorities around, and give yourself enough breathing room that you can earn the money. So don’t think the pressure is on you to make all the money NOW — assume you’ve got a three-month goal.
The federal government already thinks that way — it’s why they ask self-employed writers and editors to pay quarterly taxes instead of monthly. Writing income never arrives on a monthly basis anyway, though it’s fair for a writer to plan for a decent paycheck four times per year. So you move your income into quarterly groupings, lowering the pressure and giving yourself a better big-picture view of your budget.
In essence, I’m suggesting the conversation with yourself becomes something like this: “I’m going to make $3000 this quarter. It’s going to come from three sources — my completion money, my royalty check, and those magazine articles I’m completing. And the money is going to go toward these things…” (because part of having a budget is determining where the money goes, not just where it will come from).
When I was given this idea from an experienced freelance writer, I found it took a bunch of pressure of my shoulders. LOTS of writers and other self-employed people have based their budgets on this model over the years. Thinking quarterly will help you survive as a
If you’re going to make a living at writing, you’re going to need to consider creating a writing calendar. This is, you need to have a document that details what you’re going to write each day. Think about buying a big paper calendar, and jotting down a writing goal for each day of the month. For example, perhaps on Monday you’re working on chapter five of your book, Tuesday you’re completing the chapter, Wednesday you are creating that article you’ve wanted to do for the writing magazine, Thursday and Friday you are doing a paid edit. In each day on your calendar you’ve got something that focuses you on the task at hand.
To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. If you’re one of those writers who has been stuck at “writing 1000 words each day,” but not ever feeling like you’re actually moving forward in your career, you should try this. There’s nothing wrong with having a word count goal, of course, but sometimes it’s better to know which project you’re working on, and how long it’s going to take you. You’re going to have plenty of other things to do, of course — there will be phone calls related to your work, and seemingly endless emails, and forms to fill out, a friend’s piece to critique, some social media to participate in… but at some point you just want your writing life to have a focus — getting these pieces written so I can make some money.
And that’s why you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget. For example, that article you’re writing for the writing magazine? How much is that paying you? Let’s say it’s $150 — you write
I’ve been exploring the notion of making a living in the new publishing economy, and I want to make sure writers understand the big picture… You’ve got to treat your writing as a business.
Oh, sure, some writers will insist on treating their writing as an art, which is fine, and for some writers no doubt more appropriate. I represent some authors who don’t really see themselves as business people, but as artists, creating words that share their stories. I totally understand and respect that perspective, since some writers are, in fact, artists with words. But if it’s important to you that you generate a full-time income through your writing, and you’re pondering how to create a number of writing projects that will improve your bottom line, then you need to begin to see your writing as a business. In essence, your words are a service or product — they have value, and others need to pay you in exchange for them.
Determining the value of your words is tough at first, which is why I’ve encouraged authors to begin by setting a small monthly financial goal, then building up the number as you find success. If you know you need to earn, say, $2500 per month, then it’s clear the goal is about $500 per week (which sounds small when you put it that way, doesn’t it?). Thinking in that manner moves writing into more of a business model, since it reduces your work to numbers: “I need to make $500 from my writing this week.” You then begin to map out which projects you can do that will generate the cash flow you need.
As I’ve said a number of times on this blog, today is a great time to be a writer. There are more readers and more opportunities than ever before, so there’s a market for people who can create good content. You’ll still hear people
I’ve been talking about authors trying to make a living at writing recently, and a couple people have written to ask me, “When can I know I’m actually making a living with my words?”
To me, the answer is personal. One author may feel she is making a living when she’s earning $1500 per month; another may feel she isn’t really making a living until she’s making $3000 per month. I think you have to pick an amount based on your own situation. What are your household income needs? What’s reasonable for you to earn over the course of a year? How much time do you have to devote to writing?
When I started free-lancing, I was working other jobs (I hosted a radio show called “On the Record with Dr Chip MacGregor,” and taught some classes). At first my writing income was slim, but over time I had more writing and editing projects coming in, and I saw my monthly income from writing move from $100 to $300 to $500 to $1000 per month. I had a big jump from $1000 to $1500, then to $1800 per month. When I began making an average of $2000 per month, I realized I could make more money if I gave up my part-time jobs and just focused on the writing and editorial work. Granted, this was a number of years ago, but I had three kids and a mortgage payment, and making more than $2000 each month was enough to live on.
So, as you look at your situation, how much do you need to make? You may choose to set a small goal from your writing at first, then grow it over time as your writing career moves forward. You have to begin to see “words” as “money” — that is, your writing having value. One of the things you’ll discover is that when you look at words that way,
Last month I blogged about the two types of writers. Normally I try not to repeat myself much, but since we’re now talking about making a living at writing, I’m going to repeat much of what I said in a blog post last month. (Regular readers of this blog will forgive me the repetition.) When you look at writers who are making a living at their writing, you find they come in two basic types:
TYPE 1 is the writer who writes all over the map. There are plenty of examples of this in publishing – writers who do kids books, teen books, women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, study guides, and the occasional novella. They publish with multiple publishers, self-publish some titles, do some work-for-hire or collaborative writing, and cobble together a living. This author has good years and bad, makes decent money, is certainly out there a lot. On the nonfiction side, you find this much more with journalistic types — they’re taking on a variety of projects in order to make a living.
TYPE 2 is the writer who figures out what she wants to write, then writes it. She focuses on a genre, figures out her voice, and writes to that audience. An example of this is Terry Blackstock (there are plenty of others). Terry is writing suspense novels, everybody recognizes her voice, and she’s focused on that one audience. Another is an author I represent, Lisa Samson. Lisa writes literary fiction, knows who she is and what her style is, and focuses on it.
I’ll tell you right now that TYPE 1 writers rarely hit it big. She might make a good living, but it’s tough to really hit the big time when you move around in categories. You know that feeling of being overwhelmed because you’re doing six books in four different genres? Well, that’s the sort of life a TYPE 1 author is going to
A few years ago, I created a talk about how an author can make a living with his or her writing. I called it “The MacGregor Theory” (with apologies to the MacGregor who came up with all the Theory X and Theory Y stuff), and over the years it’s been picked up and discussed by all sorts of writers and editors in the blogosphere. But now, with the changes we’ve seen in the world of publishing, it’s time I go back and revise my theory of making a living. So if you’ll indulge me…
I have five rules for authors who want to make a full time living at writing:
1. You need to have four-to-six books earning you a royalty. In other words, you’ve done books in the past, you’ve had some earn out, and you currently have some books that are making you a passive income.
2. You need to have 18 months to 2 years of contracts. This is much harder to do in today’s publishing economy, but if you’re going to do this full time, you probably need to know clearly what you’re going to be writing for the next year or two. If you have your calendar filled up for the next 18 months with projects that are contracted, you’re at least afforded the clarity that comes from knowing what you’ll be working on.
3. You need to be self-publishing. These days, most successful authors have generated some sort of income by self-publishing books, novels, novellas, articles, and/or short stories. This is a new piece of the plan (well… not to those of us who started out in this business writing magazine articles, but new to everyone else), and fairly essential to make enough money to live on. The days of surviving on book advances are over, for all but the A-list authors who are getting the mega deals. In today’s market you need to
On Saturday, November 2, we’re doing our annual MacGregor Marketing Seminar in Chicago. We do this every year, and invite the authors we represent to come — and this time, you have an opportunity to join us. This year we’ll be at the Embassy Suites at O’Hare (5500 North River Road, Rosemont, IL 60018), starting at 9 in the morning, and running until about 5 pm. We always hold the Marketing Seminar close to an airport, so out-of-town authors can fly in, take the free shuttle, spend the day with us, and either choose to stay the night or simply fly home the same day.
This year, we’re going to be breaking the day into five modules:
1. I’m going to start the day by talking about trends in the industry, and what authors need to know about making a living in today’s current publishing climate. The goal of this session is to help authors think through a realistic plan for making money with their writing.
2. The second session will be taught by Amanda Luedeke, assisted by agent Erin Buterbaugh. If you’re a follower of Amanda’s great “Thursdays with Amanda” marketing posts, or if you’ve read her incredibly helpful book The Extroverted Writer, you already know how much wisdom she has to offer writers. The focus on this session will be on making money with your ebooks, and she’ll be presenting a real-world plan for generating income via your digital rights.
3. In the third session we plan to break into genre groups (historical novelists together, nonfiction self-help writers together, etc) and go to lunch in order to talk through ideas with other people who write in your space and are trying to reach a similar audience.
4. The fourth (and longest) session is entitled “Maximizing Your Marketing Plan,” and is going to be led by Jeane and Tyson Wynn, principals at Wynn-Wynn Media. Jeane